South Africa: 'We Had No Idea He Couldn't Walk' - Claims Shop Owner Who Refused Access to Child in Wheelchair

But child's mom hits back in Equality Court papers

"We had no idea that the child could not walk," the owner of a Mitchells Plain superette who refused access to disabled Connor Haskin in April last year has told the Equality Court.

Shop owner Salauddin Khan is accused of denying Connor, who uses a wheelchair, and his mother Liezel access into his store. Connor has Down Syndrome and some developmental delays associated with West Syndrome. He requires constant care and uses a wheelchair.

Khan said in court papers that in a later visit to the Haskin house he "noticed the child [Connor] being able to walk". He included in his papers photographs of Connor taken from Haskin's social media account showing him standing with his knees bent.

But Liezel Haskin has hit back in court papers filed on 20 December.

She refuted claims that staff were not aware of Connor's disability, saying she was a regular customer and had previously been to the store with Connor and his wheelchair. She explained that she was a single parent and could not leave Connor without proper care.

Dismissing Khan's claim that Connor could walk, she said, "Connor's disabilities are not only obvious for any person to see, but we are not shy or embarrassed to speak about it, and have talked about his challenges with staff in the shop. Connor's disabilities are therefore well known to the staff," she said.

A few days after the incident, Khan and two other staff members made an unannounced visit to Haskin's home. Khan apologised and left a slab of chocolate for Connor before taking a photo with him.

During the last hearing on 11 December, Magistrate Rene Hindley ordered Khan to file a responding affidavit. Hindley also reprimanded him for "wasting the court's time" and failing to see the "seriousness" of the complaint against him after he failed to pitch up for previous court dates.

In papers filed on 17 December, Khan questioned why he was being held to account for the incident, saying he was not in the store at the time and had been notified some time later by employee Tareq Ahmed. "Ahmed advised that he never denied access to the premises but merely informed Haskin that the pram was not allowed in the aisles. This rule applied to all customers and he pointed to the notice on the door. He was unaware that Connor was disabled and said the pram he was in had no indication that he was a disabled child. He assumed Connor could walk with his mother in the shop," he said.

Khan explained that his staff were told to no longer allow prams and wheelchairs into the store due to the high rate of shoplifting incidents. "The store was also undergoing a few minor renovations due to being vandalised ... The spacing between the aisles does not allow for prams or wheelchairs," he said.

Khan said the employees in the shop on the day told him that Haskin had not given them a chance to explain and described her as being "in a frantic irrational state of mind".

He said he had gone to Haskin's house on the advice of Shahiem Van Nelson of the South African Human Rights Commission. "We were happy to apologise for any conduct the store unintentionally did or omitted to ... We were under the impression that the matter was resolved," he said.

During the visit, Khan said he "asked if I could hold [Connor] to ascertain his weight and suggested that [Haskin] could hold the minor on her arm as this seemed probable".

On why he gave Haskin a chocolate, Khan said, "I gave the chocolate as a peace offering, there was no intention of bribing Haskin. We would not have taken a picture with the minor child if this was the case."

"Should the honourable court find the conduct to be discriminatory, this may affect other grocery stores with the same or similar policies where they would have to renovate to accommodate people in wheelchairs," he said.

In her submission, Haskin included testimonials from Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, physiotherapists and medical records of Connor's conditions. She also gave the court an assessment done by Shonaquip, which designs equipment for people with disabilities, in March 2017.

"According to their assessment, Connor has Down Syndrome; is non-verbal and communicates with sounds and gestures; is dependent on me for all activities of daily living, such as feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming and mobility; presents with poor muscle tone and low strength of both his lower limbs which has contributed to delayed physical milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling and walking; is able to sit independently, carry out minimal bum shuffle movements, and is able to stand with maximum support for one minute before losing his balance," she said. Based on this assessment, Connor was given a customised wheelchair.

The matter returns to court on Tuesday.

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